A part of the warship Zhiyuan is lifted out of water in the Yellow Sea on Sunday. (CHEN YICHEN/XINHUA)
Archaeologists began the first round of excavation on Sunday of a much-sought sunken warship that was confirmed late last month to be the Zhiyuan, a famous vessel of the Beiyang Fleet that sank on Sept 17, 1894 during the Sino-Japanese War.
The excavation work is being conducted 59 kilometers south of the mouth of the Yalu River near Dandong, Liaoning province.
More than 100 historical relics have been salvaged so far from the wreckage. They are classified in three categories: ship-borne weapons, ship parts and daily-life necessities of the sailors.
Deng Shichang, captain of the Zhiyuan, ordered the vessel, after its ammunition was exhausted, to run at full speed to bump the flagship of the Japanese naval force. The official Chinese history recorded that the ship, carrying a crew of 245, was sunk by a torpedo. Deng is considered a national hero.
The most direct evidence proving the identity of the warship comes from a broken china plate excavated from the wreckage that bears the name of the Zhiyuan.
The government of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) imported the Zhiyuan and several other warships, most of which were wiped out in the war with Japan, from the United Kingdom in a bid to revive its weak military after losing the First Opium War (1839-42). Zhiyuan was one of the most advanced naval vessels in Asia at the time.
Chen Yue, a historian with the Navy History Study Society, said the relics of daily living necessities are of great value to those studying the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95).
Additionally, Chen said: "I am looking forward to finding the seal of the ship or the captain. The ship seal was invariably made of good materials and stored in a sturdy box. It is highly possible that we can find it."
The archaeologists also found a unique machine gun from the Zhiyuan's rear mast.
"The machine gun's data plate indicates its date of production, model and manufacturer. And all of this information coincides with the historical record of the Zhiyuan's arms," said Chen.
The archaeologists believe they can find some remains of the sailors' bodies. Lin Qihao, a descendant of one of the Beiyang Fleet's crew members, said: "I hope the government can make good use of the salvage findings and build a museum in Dandong."
Ji Mo, a fan of navy history in Shanghai, said: "I am very interested in the salvage of the Zhiyuan. The Beiyang Fleet is a painful memory for China. We should learn from that war why China lost it, even though China had the most advanced warships in the world."The Dandong Port Group found a huge steel hull while digging new sailing channels two years ago, and it immediately sent several pieces of steel found in the wreckage to researchers in Beijing.
Sa Su, a Japan-based Chinese archaeologist who attended the appraisal last year, said the size and make of the steel are very close to what the British shipyard that built the Zhiyuan used in the late 19th century. "Our initial conclusion is that the sunken ship belongs to the Beiyang Fleet," said Sa.
The technical evaluation of the National Underwater Archaeology Center indicates that all indexes of the steel match with the warships of the Beiyang Fleet.
The authority initiated a new round of excavation from August to October last year and found that the hull is buried 3 meters deep in the silt. The decisive battle of the war happened in that exact area of the sea.